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Free Rides, Flowers, Well-Wishes: Russians Seek Solidarity After Subway Blast 

  • Tom Balmforth

A woman lays flowers for the victims of the St. Petersburg blast by the Kremlin walls in Moscow.

MOSCOW -- As chaos gripped St. Petersburg after a bomb blast ripped through a Metro train car and killed at least 10 people, residents went online offering free rides to those stranded by the attack.

As St. Petersburg authorities shut down the city subway network in the hours after the April 3 explosion, private car owners used the maps feature on the popular Yandex search engine to offer rides to residents away from the blast area free of charge.

“I’m going north from Petrogradka, I can take a couple of people in my car!” Lev Dmitriev, a resident, wrote on Facebook.

On social networks like Twitter, the hashtag #domoi (homeward) trended, while the ride-hailing service Uber offered stranded subway riders journeys free of charge till the end of the day. City authorities declared all surface transport free of charge.

In the aftermath of the bombing, Russians struggled to deal with what appeared an unprecedented terrorist attack in a city known informally as the country’s cultural capital. And they took to social-media networks and elsewhere in acts of national solidarity.

‘Immense Pain’

By the evening of April 3, mourners had gathered to lay flowers at St. Petersburg’s Spasskaya subway station instead of the Sennaya Ploshchad station, which had been sealed off by investigators.

In Moscow, residents laid flowers near the Kremlin walls at the World War II memorial dedicated to the wartime defenders of Leningrad -- St. Petersburg’s Soviet name.

In the stadium for Spartak Moscow football club, fans raised scarves above their heads in a mass tribute during an evening match, and a long, white banner hung from one section reading: “An immense pain that tears our hearts to pieces. Petersburg, we mourn.”


Security efforts ahead of the blast did come under some question, with opposition city councilor Boris Vishnyevsky complaining on Facebook that "hundreds of millions of rubles" of budget money had been spent on metal detectors installed inside the subway system, though he said no one ever carried out checks on them.

But there was also room for accolades. Investigators praised the driver of the subway who did not stop the train when the blast occurred between stations. His decision to instead continue on to the next station, they said, helped in the emergency response.

"We were allowed to immediately begin the evacuation and to start treating victims. We can’t rule out that this helped stop the number of victims from rising higher," Svetlana Petrenko, a spokeswoman for the Investigative Committee, told the REN TV station.

On Facebook, oil tycoon-turned-Kremlin-critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky called on Russians to set aside their political differences and unite.

"Today we are all in the same boat, regardless of our appearances, our rank our age. Russia is our home. And in our home, there is grief," he wrote.

WATCH: Putin Reacts To St. Petersburg Blast

Ultranationalist writer Aleksandr Prokhanov, meanwhile, sought to divide. Speaking on state TV, he smeared the opposition, linking the St. Petersburg blast to the huge anticorruption rallies held across the country on March 26.

Both incidents, he claimed, had been coordinated to "destabilize" Russia ahead of the presidential election in March 2018.

President Vladimir Putin, who was in his hometown for a meeting with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka at the time of the blast, spoke to journalists shortly afterward, expressing his "sincerest condolences, regrets, and sympathies" to the victims and their relatives. He told journalists he had already been briefed by the director of the Federal Security Service, the country’s main security agency.

Putin then entered talks with Lukashenka that lasted over five hours and that focused on issues from oil and gas to debt refinancing, according to one prominent Kremlin journalist.

As the pair finally emerged later to journalists, Putin made no further comment on the blast.

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    Tom Balmforth

    Tom Balmforth covers Russia and other former Soviet republics. He can be reached at balmfortht@rferl.org

     

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